Friday, January 21, 2005

Abandoning Development for "Identity": the UNDP and "Minority Rights"

Hillary Clinton is not alone in pushing the “minority rights” agenda. The United Nations Development Program – which used to promote economic development – has also taken up the banner in its latest human development report titled Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World. Despite being called a “report”, the document does not in fact bear the usual attributes of a work of research, but more closely resembles – and exhibits all the subtlety of – a high school textbook, i.e. a text designed for pedagogical purposes. This style has the effect of converting what are in fact highly contentious propositions, the very sense of which is frequently unclear, into simple matters of fact. Thus, the opening section, for example, lays out a series of supposed “myths” about “policies recognizing cultural diversity and encouraging diversity” and helpfully proceeds to “debunk” them on behalf of the reader – as in:

Myth 1. People’s ethnic identities compete with their attachment to the state, so there is a trade-off between recognizing diversity and unifying the state.

Not so. Individuals can and do have multiple identities that are complementary—ethnicity, language, religion and race as well as citizenship. Nor is identity a zero sum game. There is no inevitable need to choose between state unity and recognition of cultural differences.
Note here the reduction of citizenship – a legal status implying definite rights and obligations – to simply an “identity”, i.e. among others. This conflation can also be read as implying that the other “identities” should likewise be legally formalized and furnished with specific rights, and even a brief perusal of Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World makes clear that this is indeed the point. Logically, of course, if the other “identities” are being elevated to a status analogous to that of citizenship, then they ought also to be burdened with specific obligations. It is, however, a symptom of the fact that “minority rights” are not really a matter of “rights” in the customary legal sense of the term that they do not imply any such additional obligations for supposed members of the “minorities” in question.

In keeping with its propagandistic vocation, a brief perusal of Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World also reveals it to be a wealth of distortions, strategic omissions and outright disinformation. Thus, for instance, it favorably cites the Croatian parliament’s reserved seats for national minorities (see p. 7) as a positive example of how to guarantee “minority representation”. No mention is made in this context of the fact that Croatia’s most important “national minority”, namely the “Serb national minority”, has seen its numbers more than halved (from some 582,000 persons at the time of Croatian independence to barely 200,000 today) since its members' minority status was first “recognized”. The “report” also repeats one of the key myths of recent EU-led campaigns to install systems of “minority rights” and/or create “multi-ethnic” or “multi-national” “federative” orders in regions under its influence – most notably, in the Balkans: namely, the notion that Switzerland is a “multi-national federation” whose constitution “recognizes multiple identities” (see p. 50). In fact, the Swiss constitution is promulgated in the name of a single undivided “Swiss people” and the units of the Swiss federation, the cantons, are defined in territorial, not ethnic, terms.

That the UNDP would publish such a document is further evidence of a kind of “triple alliance” among the EU, the UN bureaucracy, and the Democratic Party elite or at least its Clintonite faction. It should be noted, moreover, that the director of the UNDP at the time this report was drafted, Mark Malloch Brown, has lately been named Kofi Annan’s Chef de Cabinet.